An excerpt from Jennifer Stevenson's
Trash Sex Magic


"Jennifer Stevenson is my goddess. In this book, trash is power. Trash Sex Magic is a springtime bacchanalia of beautiful, wild women, magic trees and sexy men-love it!"
-Nalo Hopkinson, author of The Salt Roads

"It was a proverb of the 16th Century: On Hallowmass Eve troll notte thy broomstick bye ye caravan park, for thou wottist notte who maye mount thereon. I had paid it little heed since learning it years ago, and planned to read this grand book one chapter at a time. I'd scarcely begun the second when I fell under the author's spell."
-Gene Wolfe, author of Knight


 

                                                                           ONE

FOXE PARKE TOWNHOUSES, BERNE, ILLINOIS
EIGHT ELEGANT RIVERSIDE DWELLINGS
ARCHITECTS: LUNT MORSE A.I.A.
DEVELOPER: ATLAS PROPERTIES
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: BAGOFF, FIMBEAU & JUICK

                                                                             #

            Raedawn Somershoe shook her mother's shoulder.  "Gelia!  Wake up!"  She jumped back as Gelia's fist swung out of the blankets.  Cold March air blew in the trailer window, fluttering the edges of quilts stapled to the walls.  "Mother!  They're cutting down the tree across the road!"

            "Whuh?"

            "Right now!  The machines are all there!"  Through the window Rae heard a chainsaw cough.  She flew back outside to the edge of the railroad tracks by the road.

            There they were.  A big yellow bulldozer and a little one like yesterday, churning up the mud they'd made of the meadow, and today a white trailer on a flatbed truck, a big hopper with ominous whirling blades in its mouth, and, reaching up to the top of their tree, a huge crane with a man in a bucket on top.  He was draping ropes over the leafless upper limbs of the tree.

            Rae hugged her own arms, cold with dread.  "They're really going to do it," she whispered.

            "'Course they are," her mother said beside her.  "They had the sign up a month ago."

            Rae rounded on her.  "If you knew, why didn't you do something?"

            "What could I do that he couldn't?"  Gelia stood watching the men at work, looking closed-up and satisfied in that horrible way she had when bad things happened just as she said they would.  She turned the look on Rae.  "Well?  You gonna stand here and watch?  Let's get out of here."

            She heaved two big laundry bags to her shoulders and stomped off toward Rimville.

            The chainsaw coughed again.  Rae heard a clatter as small branches sputtered away and fell.  Her skin crawled.  She ran to catch up with Gelia.

            "What--how could--"

            Gelia tossed one of the bags on the ground, put her head down, and walked faster.  The chainsaw roared behind them.  Rae snatched up the second laundry bag and followed.

            Going be like that, is it.  Gelia knowing stuff and not telling.  Rae tried to wrap the laundry bag around her head so she couldn't hear the growl of the saw.  Maybe she could march back there, fuck every one of those men if that was what it took, or lay hands on the machines so they'd break down or, awful thought, make the machines turn on the killers.

            No.  Even Gelia couldn't do that.  Whatever had gone wrong, it was out of their hands.  A sound came like machine-gun fire.  They were feeding the little branches into the shredder.

            She caught up with Gelia on the climb up the hill.  "You knew?  When they put up the sign?  What--how can he die?"

            Gelia turned so fast, her laundry bag almost knocked Rae down.  "Be still."

            "What's going to happen to us?"

            All Gelia's teeth showed.  "We're gonna be just peachy."

            "Last night--I was with him--he's been so strange--"

            "Be still!"  Her mother looked ravaged.

            "You never let me talk about him!" Rae cried.

            Gelia slapped her hard across the face.  "That's right.  And now you never will."  She picked up her laundry again and toiled on up the hill, her back bent as Rae had never seen it before.

            Rae picked up her own bag and panted after her.  That bad old numbness got hold of her, made her sick to her stomach, made the sky dark and turned her head to a block of wood.  She marched like a little kid up the steep concrete street, each step impossibly small, past black lumps of old snow and grass trying to go green.  Her cheek stung.  She hated Gelia putting the silence on her.  Hated it.

            In the laundromat they sorted dirty clothes, avoiding accidental touches on the hand, tossing stuff onto each other's piles.  They sat at opposite ends of the room with their magazines.  Blindly Rae watched the wet laundry go round and round.

            He couldn't die.  She shut her eyes and reached out for him, feeling for the place inside that he had colonized.

            Shock slapped her, a hundred times harder than Gelia's slap.  She bounced against her plastic chair and her eyes flew open.

            At the sorting table, Gelia smirked bitterly.

            A moment later, the cement floor shook under her shoes.  Boom.  Rae trembled with the feel of change in the air.

            Gelia flinched, but she never looked up.

            The manager-repairman swaggered into the laundry.  "Hey, baby," he said to Gelia.  "I've missed ya.  Stick around and watch the game tonight?"

            Gelia ignored him.

            "How 'bout you, Rae?" he said across the table.

            Rae twitched, trying to smile.  "That's awful nice of you, Dan."  Dear god, somebody was having a normal day.

            Gelia put her hand on his behind and he turned his hey-baby grin back to her.

            Boom.  Rae and Gelia flinched together.

            "I didn't say no yet, did I?" Gelia snapped, her eyes glittering.  Gelia would be proving herself number one hussy on her deathbed.

            "See you tonight, babe," Dan told Gelia and swaggered out.

            Gelia met Rae's eyes across the table.  There was something indescribably nasty in that look.  Gelia had a secret, and she was angry with her daughter, and it would cost Rae dear to find out what it was.

            Boom.  Gelia turned away and began stuffing her load into a dryer.  Rae stared out the window at a posse of yelling crows flying hell-for-leather eastbound over the trees, and waited for the next chunk to hit the ground.

            "God dammit!"  Gelia gave a childish shriek of rage.  She twiddled the knob on the dryer and her fist hit the metal panel with a bang.  For the first time Rae heard disbelief and loss in her mother's voice.

            "God damn machine!  It ate my lucky quarters!"

                                                                          TWO

            Rae stood under the scrubby box elder trees outside her trailer, her hands clenched in the pouch of her faded red sweatshirt.  She couldn't bring herself to walk past on her way to work without looking.  Perhaps there was a twig left, a leaf.  She crossed the road again.  Huge machines tore across the meadow, crushing the yellow noses of cattail shoots and jewelweed where they clotted the spongy wet pockets.  On drier ground, the great wheels ground down the first leaves of Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed susan, thickening mosses and lank prairie grass.

            Rae clumped over the muddy ruts, lost for the first time in twenty-five years.  The meadow had been a child-high carpet of wildflowers, hummocked with interesting trash, guarded by great black-trunked trees.  The ridge behind it, festooned with wild grape vines and raspberry canes and secret paths, rose only a hundred yards away.

            Today the ridge was all that was left.  Hot tears choked her and mud stuck in bigger and heavier lumps to her shoes.  The meadow shrank around the acre of naked mud, torn beyond recognition, nothing left of chiggerweed and wild mustard, St. John's wort and spiderwort.

            Rae staggered.  The workmen paused in their ditches and watched her cry.

            She found what she was looking for.

            "Yo, girlie!  Get off my site!"

            Is this all that's left? she thought, looking down at the stump.

            The site foreman said, "Foo!  What's that stink?"

            At their feet, the tree stump lay on its side, its huge spidery root system aimed north, the vast trunk aiming south.  The roots sagged like rotting sausage.  A whitish fluid oozed out of the sawn-off end and hardened, covered with buzzing and struggling flies.  The stump stank of death.  Rae looked for the other sixty feet of trunk, limbs, branches, twigs, and leaves.  Impossible.  There should be something.  A leaf, a shred of bark.

            The foreman waved an arm.  "Yo, Alexander!"

            A big fat black workman ambled over.

            The foreman pointed at the stump.  "Remember that stink I was complaining about?"

            "That was a big tree," Alexander said.

            "Biggest tree on the site.  Hadda take it out to put up the office."

            Rae covered her mouth with both hands.  The workman Alexander stared at her.  A bumblebee flew around her head and landed on her shoulder.

            The foreman picked up a twig.  "Like a dead animal."

            "What kind was it?" Alexander said.

            "The kind that's inna way," the foreman said.  He poked the trunk.  The twig sank readily into the bark and foul-smelling fluid spurted out.  He jumped back.  "Get this on the truck, pronto," he said and stomped away.

            "You okay, Miss?" Alexander said to Rae.

            Numb, not expecting an answer, she said, "How can they do these things?"

            "I don't know," he said.  He towered over her for a long moment, so big he shut out the weak March sun, and then he left, casting another look at her over his shoulder as he went.

            Rae stumbled away.  What had he said last night?

            I've borrowed a couple of spares.  You won't be alone.

            No, that's not what he said.  Rae glared hard at the ground between her muddy shoes, trying to remember, trying to tune in to the huge, bright signal of his voice, now truly silent.  But all she could hear was noise.

            I've assigned a team of extras.  No.  I've somethinged two somethings.  What had he really said?

            She shook her head.  He never said anything in words.  She only understood, or didn't.  She listened with her inner ear for the voice that had no words, but he was gone.  Hacked up, thrown away.  She sucked air across her burning throat.  The smell of the stump gagged her.  What's going to happen to us?

                                                                             #

            Alexander Caebeau watched the girl in the red sweatshirt walk away across the road.  She was the single most beautiful thing he had seen since he came to this cold, unfriendly place and began starving to death.  She had hair that looked gold or white or tawny, depending on how the sun hit it, and her skin was whiter than white, the white that glows from inside, the white skin you saw in Nassau sometimes, even among his own cousins.

            The girl in the red sweatshirt didn't seem to protect her skin much.  She had a look, readily identifiable to a child of the working poor, of someone who lived with her beauty, rather than for it.

            He went back to his unpleasant job.  The bucketloader blade dug into the black dirt and scooped, easily lifting the bulk of the great severed tree trunk.  He felt like a pallbearer. 

            It seemed that the whole point of the work he did was to kill the kind of life he led back home--tear down shabby old houses such as the one he grew up in, or where the girl in the red sweatshirt lived, over there by the river.  His job to dig up their great trees, chase away the chickens, gouge great holes in their backyards, and then fill them up with concrete towers of ugliness.  They changed the way the wind blew, those concrete towers.  The old neighborhoods were passing in Freeport, as the houses closest to the beach and the heart of town were leveled and replaced with strip malls, hotels, and rows and rows of blue-and-white cement swimming pools.  His own uncle owned the bulldozer company that pushed those little houses down, while grannies watched stony-faced and children hid behind their skirts.  All to make what?  A new piece of trash that would come falling down in fifty or sixty years.

            What kind of tree was it?  The kind that's in the way.

            Great trees should be treasured.  That's the way we do things at home.  He sighed.  Until Granmamā relented, he would not see home again.

            Meantime he was starving, living on hamburgers and growing fatter while, inside, he was always hungry.  This place was soulless.  The plants and trees were wrong and the sun came up too late and too cold.  At the end of his last date, after he'd asked out the waitress at the coffeeshop, she had demanded twenty dollars.  They all thought he was a rube.  Well, so he was.

            Now the girl in the red sweatshirt was standing by the side of the road, talking to a large, shambling-looking white man in overalls that flopped off his shoulder.  Her father maybe, since he put his arm around her, comforting her.  No, for she kissed him now.  Her companion grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him.  The kiss went on and on.  Alexander stalled the bucketloader, watching.  The girl pulled free and ran off to one of the trailers by the riverbank.

            Alexander caught a stunned look on the man's face.  He understood.  He would have felt the same way, had she kissed him.  Perhaps the man had been in love a long time.  Alexander sighed.  On top of the power pole beside the construction office trailer, a crow guffawed.

            Alexander looked away toward the ridge where a pair of grubby white-headed kids squatted on the ridgetop.  He raised his arm.  After a moment they raised theirs.  To him?  Or were they waving at the girl in the red sweatshirt?

            Here she came, carrying a string bag.  She kissed the man in overalls again.  A blue convertible pulled up, its top open and its front seat full of rich, pretty girls.  The man in overalls squeezed into the front seat with them and the convertible drove away.  The girl in the red sweatshirt walked away down the road.  The crow on the power pole took off and floated behind her, its wings glinting in the sunshine.  Alexander stared after her like an idiot.

            He pulled the big lever that tipped the great rotting stump into the dump truck.  "There you go, old fellow."

            Sometimes he thought he was dying of the dark and cold and people's ugliness, like an orange lost in the back of the refrigerator.  Maybe he would get hard on the outside and nobody would ever taste how sweet he could have been.


Trash Sex Magic
Jennifer Stevenson
Fiction/Fantastic Fiction
June 15, 2004
320 pages, 5.5" x 8.25"

Simultaneous release:
Hardcover ISBN:
1931520062 $26
Trade pb ISBN:
1931520127 $16

Available from SCB Distributors (scbdistributors.com), Ingram, and Baker & Taylor

Click here to preorder from the publisher

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